Although South Africa’s Communications Minister Faith Muthambi had earlier intimated that the nation would switch off its analogue broadcasting system in June, the Department of Communications has issued a New Broadcasting Digital Migration policy which suggests this is not the case.
The Department says it welcomes the Cabinet decision regarding the approval of the Broadcasting Digital Migration Amendment Policy with the inclusion of the control system in the Set Top Box (STB), which will be clearly defined when the policy is published.
It advises that the issue of whether to include the control system in the STBs has been the source [of] disagreement amongst free-to air broadcasters for some time now, which impacted negatively on the ability of the country to implement the broadcasting digital television within the International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU) agreed timelines. “The ITU’s agreed deadline for the switch-off of analogue television signals is the 17 June 2015 and South Africa will not meet this date,” it says.
“Broadcasting digital migration simply defined means the migration of the broadcasting services from analogue broadcasting technology to digital technologies,” it explains. “The primary objective of digital migration is to clear the radio frequency spectrum currently occupied by broadcasters to enable the provision of wireless mobile broadband services and other innovative applications. Therefore STBs are to be used in the transition to enable free to air broadcasting services to migrate from analogue to digital television and will not be a permanent feature in the free to air broadcasting system in South Africa,” it confirms.
The Department of Communications believes that the provision of definition of the STB control system in the final policy will assist in clearing the confusion regarding the use of control system in the STBs. For the purposes of accelerating the migration of free to air broadcasting television from analogue to digital, control system will have the following meaning:
control system does not mean a conditional access system nor does it mean an encryption of the signal to control access to content by viewers;
control system refers to a security feature to encourage local electronic manufacturing sector;
the STB must have minimal switching (on/off) security features to protect the subsidised STBs from theft or leaving SA borders; and
must have capabilities to enable the provision of government information and services.
The new policy position does not in any way prohibit any broadcaster who will want to include conditional access in the provision of broadcasting services to its customers. It is the firm view of the Department that broadcasters who will want to do that should make their own investment in the acquisition of a conditional access system.
As previously reported, the South African government will provide free STBs to more than 5 million poor television household owners instead of a partial subsidy of 70 per cent as previously approved in 2008. The distribution of the STBs will prioritise those households in the border region areas of the country to avoid and minimise signal interference between those regions and neighbouring countries. Details of the distribution of STBs will be announced soon by the Department.
The Department will in consultation with Cabinet determine and announce the analogue signal switch-on and switch-off dates.
The Department is calling upon all key role players in the broadcasting fraternity to put behind them all their differences and work together to deliver digital television to the South African people, thus ensuring universal access to broadcasting services in line with the Constitution of the Republic.
“Together we move South Africa forward,” it declares.